Connecting With Loved Ones With Alzheimer's or Dementia

Alzheimer’s disease strikes pain and division in many families, without always giving loved ones a break to cope.

But when it comes to bringing the family together to reconnect with a loved one who has the disease, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, or AFA, released several steps for how to reconnect and strengthen connections, according to a news release issued last week.

“As the disease progresses and memory fades, it’s about what can we do for loved ones to stay connected,” said Margie Veis, executive director of Oakmont of Valencia, which also works to help families with loved ones who have Alzheimer’s or dementia.

To begin, AFA asks families to work on finding ways to reconnect by means of different activities, such as sharing meals, watching films or looking through old photos together. In addition to this, Veis suggested a memory box with mementos and photos, items that can trigger memories, as well as face recognition via Skype or FaceTime.

Another option is to learn “love languages,” or ways to express and receive love. This can incorporate gift-giving, acts of service and physical touch. One technique Veis recommended is to take a knee and touch delicately.

“I think touch is so important, but you have to be respectful of the disease process,” Veis said. “(Someone with Alzheimer’s) can become hypersensitive to touch.”

AFA also suggested families learn how to be adaptable and take time learning what can be done, rather than staying focused on what cannot be done when going out and spending time together. This can also apply to redefining roles, where the stress of caregiving can lead a spouse or relative to feel less like a loved one. AFA recommends family members not wait to ask for help, or to reach out to other relatives, friends or caregiving professionals for guidance.

“Any minute it can be different, and you have to be on their timetable,” Veis said.

When the stress becomes too much, AFA’s suggestion to caregivers is to find ways to reach out to support groups that can help people dealing with grief, anger or resentment.

Oakmont runs its own support group similar to AFA’s description. Run by marketing director Mary Dembkowski, Veis said there are some people who have used its help for more than 10 years.

“It’s not a weakness, it’s a way to learn from other people’s experiences as well as for supporting each other,” Veis said.

AFA offers its own support groups, as well as social workers who can be reached at 866-232-8484 or at alzfdn.org, and are available seven days a week.

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